Kate Misinjian stalked down another shadowed, disused pathway, laughing between her teeth at the unobservant Jedi she had left behind. Dirt sloughed off the wide sleeve of her cloak. Her expression flicked from triumphant to disappointed as she brushed off the dust. It proved that she had slept in an alley last night, under a small overhang and next to a drainage grate, curled in her Jedi cloak and half-alert, half-dozing all the while. She'd practiced, as she ran from Obi-Wan and the others, scaring off the citizens of Coruscant, whether innocent or malicious ones it didn't matter, with a glare. A glimpse of her lightsaber scared off anyone who meant to do her harm, but as she fitfully tried to sleep shivers had run under the skin of her arms, as if eager to use the famous blade and assure herself of one less danger.
Laughing was still easier than thinking when she woke up the next morning, thankfully alone, unexpectedly dusty, hungry, and forced to wipe her smudged makeup off her cheek with spit and the back of her hand. She only vaguely knew where she was from geography lessons, but any HoloNet kiosk or road sign would tell her the name of the district she was in. Even though she had decided to run away from the temple days ago, had planned and grown comfortable with the planning, had imagined herself ready to leave home, it didn't feel comfortable in her heart. Easiest of all was not thinking; just feeling, raging against Masters and circumstances, hormones and morals, hoping that the Sith, with his rumored omniscience like a two-way mirror, would hear her. She whipped the Force around herself in useless flings and whirlwinds, advertising potent power as she moved, uncaring of whether her former allies were following her.
What with these two days of freedom as well as her first, halfhearted escape attempt, surely the Sith should notice her by now, unless it too saw her as useless and intractable–
She refused to believe that it did not exist, as some said, that it was just a legendary name to give to an unknown or imagined new foe.
A person stepped out of the a shadowed side street.. She had not consciously noticed it before, but she felt a parting of energies and suddenly she was not alone. An alien stood in front of her in the small alley. They were far enough into buildings and away from skylanes that the cacophony of speeder traffic was a muffled hum, and his footsteps clicked loud, but only once she saw him could she hear them. With her training, even that not involving the Force, she should have been aware of his presence far sooner. The Council had not hidden the fact that a 'cloud of the dark side' was distancing the Force from the Jedi in recent days, but her generation, Kate realized, had grown up in it--
He was a blue-skinned, black-clothed male, with more head-tails than she cared to count ringing his craggy face. A Feeorin, Kate realized, probably in his twenties according to human age.
He held a lightsaber in one gloved hand, and meant to draw it.
She Force-pushed him, her arms ridged with her anger, releasing pent-up energy. Dust and scraps of plastic and flimsi whooshed through the alley in a cloud as the push surged toward him, sending him stumbling backwards seconds later. A red lightsaber snapped to life in his hand. Vivid, contradictory anger swept through Kate at the sight of the crimson; she would fight now because he was a Jedi's foe, and she would fight to be his replacement.
Obi-Wan woke up with the worst headache he'd ever experienced. The light that was streaming through his windows made spots dance before his eyes, and it took him far longer than usual to get dressed due to a lingering dizziness. When he finally stumbled into the sitting room, he found Qui-Gon facing him, wearing a smile that was far too happy for Obi-Wan's current frame of mind.
"Sleep well, Padawan?"
Obi-Wan groaned in response. "Master, what did I do last night?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could tell me."
The boy plopped down on one of the couches and put his head in his hands. "I remember... something about ducks. One of them may have flown into the back of my head."
"That must have been when Master Drallig hit you," Qui-Gon commented casually. "Anything else?"
"Asha was singing in Askajjian, which I guess isn't all that unusual." He paused for a second. "But Ciaràn was dancing, so that can't have been real either."
"What was that about me dancing?" Ciaràn walked into the room wearing a serious expression, and spoke as soon as the door ceased its hiss. But then he moved closer to Obi-Wan and smiled widely and irritatingly. "Master Drallig wants to see you."
"For what?" Obi-Wan asked, glancing between his friend and his Master.
It was Qui-Gon who responded, "Master Drallig and I had a rather extensive conversation last night concerning your punishment. We figured that, rather than bring you before the Council, it would be far easier to throw you in bed, and in the morning you could have an extra vigorous sparring session to make up for your obvious lack of judgment."
Obi-Wan's gaze shifted back to Ciaràn. "I don't suppose sparring actually means I'm going to spar with you, does it?"
The Zabrak's grin grew, if possible, even wider, giving Obi-Wan all the answer he needed.
The Feeorin leapt toward Kate, skidding in the dirt as he landed, lightsaber whipping around at her legs from behind his knees. She jumped over the blade as her own came to life in her hand. Green met red in a conventional low block. When he paused and she cut at his chest he simply lifted his weapon and blocked again, hands high. He smiled, and behind it was more darkness than she had ever known. Pain layered on aggression on hate to create a miasma of forbidden, easy vigor–
"You aren't Darth Sidious," she accused instead of questioning, instead of flinching--.
The alien head shook slightly, yellowish eyes unnaturally bright. "It is," he said, "my Master that you seek."
"Then I'll kill you, and prove myself to him!"
The Sith's saber spun and flicked toward her face. She stepped back and to the side, parried, foresaw–blocked a kick with her right forearm and ignored the resultant pain enough to draw her arm back as she stepped forward. She drove her lightsaber through him just above the hipbone. Although it burnt out a runnel of flesh, the stab wasn't deep enough to incapacitate him, and as the Sith screamed he spun to face her and slashed. She felt like she was reeling from the burnt-flesh reek and utter lack of resistance from her own attack, which she had never experienced with training sabers, but the Force steadied her senses. She met the Sith's next attack.
That strike was a feint; before the fields could flash with contact his weapon dipped close to her shoulder. She danced backwards on her toes, frightened.
Obi-wan had heard of Master Drallig's fondness for push-ups on other occasions, but had never seen the Battle Master put the idea into practice. Now, he was experiencing it first hand.
He was not given a number to complete; Master Drallig simply smiled at him and said "Start." He was required to count aloud, and he'd made it to push-up number forty-two when Ciaràn put a foot on his back. Obi-Wan glared up at his friend as the weight increased.
"Did I tell you to stop, Padawan?" Master Drallig asked lightly. "And keep your back straight."
With his head still pounding, Obi-Wan lowered his body again.
"43... 44... 45..."
The Feeorin limped slightly as he began to circle Kate, but otherwise remained focused, unsettling eyes intent, washing pain away with the Force. She wondered, not without relief, why he did not use any of the fearsome Force powers the dark side offered, which the temple taught Padawans only a little about: lightning; the draining of life energy; choke holds without hands. But, she reminded herself, he's just an apprentice. Like me.
That equality propelled her forward into a preemptive slash. He caught her saber and threw both blades toward the ground in a wide, florescent circle, opening himself up–she kicked him just above the furrow her lightsaber had dug in his side, and followed up with a Force-push that slammed the Sith against a wall a meter away. She moved toward him slowly, pride beginning to surface and bleed happiness into her brain as he winced, but as adrenaline died the dull, vivid pain from where he'd kicked her replaced it. She grimaced and stabbed down toward his saber arm, knowing grimly that she'd have to be rid of it before he was anything like helpless–
but he had a longer reach than she did. His ankles clamped around hers and twisted. Suddenly she was on the ground too, forearms grinding against the duracrete–
she rolled, and nothing but the Force directed her arm to raised her saber and block two attacks before she could use momentum to toss herself to her feet. A few more parries and her back hit the wall. He raised a hand–
and she brought a fire escape down between them. Wrenched from its sockets above Kate's head, the folded metal stairway creaked under the influence of the Force. A corner glanced off her hip as the construct fell from two stories up. It clanged against the ground on its edge, falling like a barred, black wall toward the Sith just as he Force-jumped away. Kate bit back a cry and jogged in the opposite direction. The ladder-shaped fire escape clattered to the ground between them, and in no time at all after she stopped moving the Sith was on top of it, walking toward her just favoring his right leg, anger and determination beating like hearts through the Force. She could do nothing but step up onto the metal rungs and face him. The mesh of black bars was almost the size of the temple's smallest sparring floors...
Memories flashed through Kate–sparring practice, classes with Master Drallig and Ciaran, her pride at constructing her first lightsaber, the same one whose ridged surface was surely pressing red runnels into her hands now as she gripped it tightly in preparation for battle. She had never been exceptional at swordplay, but not hadn't failed at it either, not until Master K'tan had started monitoring her in those classes too and forced her to think about her feelings as well as her fighting–she could almost hear K'tan's soft, cracking voice.
"Relax, my apprentice. Even if you are fighting to the death, you must remain calm. The Force buoys you up. Let its serenity protect you from the fear of death."
But when she was calm, her reactions were slow. Feeling that the fight was real and important urged her to a frenzy where the Force felt close, where its applications for attack were as natural as her hands of flesh . What could be wrong with that? What could be right about the halting hesitancy she experienced when trying to channel the serenity a Jedi was supposed to have?
She remembered Ciaran standing on the sidelines, arms folded in the soft material of his cloak, his eyes cutting the world like a knife cutting fat from meat. When she fought him or Master Drallig, they didn't care much about her feelings on the matter. They were all technique, all finesse and a focus that, while it couldn't possibly be described as K'tan's 'serenity'; was distinctly Jedi. Master Shaak Ti moved with that clarity too, and Padawan Swan, and under K'tan's tutelage Kate thought that this example she saw in other Jedi she admired was closer to the dark side than to K'tan's boring serenity! It was closer to the grace of the Sith, as he
forced her backwards, saber spinning, raining sparks as she caught each fast strike on her own blade. The blitz abated as he reached out, as she stepped off the grid.
The Force choke he attacked with next agonized her throat and sent blobs of gray to cloud her vision. She stumbled backwards, unsure of what was going to come next, if anything, but if I never want to see K'tan again I've got to persevere– she rode a wave of anger and frustration. She lashed out with her saber, an unaimed strike but one that surprised the Sith, who had expected his opponent to be incapacitated and retreating. The Force choke fell away as he was distracted by blocking two quick slashes aimed for his head. Kate sucked in a breath of air and clarity.
Somewhere in the mid-sixties, Obi-Wan realized that he'd attracted an audience. There were general whispers, a few jeers and laughter, some hushed betting about what number he'd make it to before he collapsed, and--
"Oh no," Obi-Wan groaned.
Although she was lost in the middle of the crowd in the doorway, Obi-wan could clearly hear Asha's breezy soprano over the rest of the murmur. The foot on his back lifted, and Obi-Wan wondered vaguely what Ciaràn was planning. He watched his friend's black boots cross the room, and listened intently as Ciaràn addressed Asha.
"What are you doing here?"
"Obi-Wan is supposed to take me to my music lessons, but I can't find him," Asha replied. "You don't know where he is, do you?"
Obi-Wan could practically see the gears turning in Ciaràn's head. "I do, actually. Asha, you can miss one music lesson, right?"
"I guess. Why?"
"Well, Obi-Wan and I are playing a game, and you can play too. All I need is for you to sit very, very still."
Asha must have nodded, because the next thing he knew, Ciaràn's boots were coming back toward him, accompanied by Asha's smaller slippered feet. They paused in front of him, and then Asha was picked up off the ground and deposited on his back. The only thing that kept Obi-Wan from falling was his determination not to fail in front of Ciaràn.
"You may continue, Padawan." Obi-Wan detected a distinct note of humor in Master Drallig's voice.
"68... 69... 70..."
The Feeorin filled up her field of vision. But he was too close now, swinging his saber behind his shoulder to make a powered cut at her, and his limbs were too long for a punch or kick at this distance that he might throw at her to be truly effective–she flipped her saber, blade burning a green curtain into the air as it crossed in front of her face, and switched her hands around to effect a controlled slash from her right to her left. With only a deep thrum the Sith lost his right arm at the shoulder. Kate pointed her saber's hilt at her heart and stabbed him through the sternum until her knuckles brushed his tunic.
Her hands started shaking before the Sith hit the ground.
Then, see, she thought, breathing hard, weapon still live at her side, women can fight as well as men.
Then, Great. I still have no idea where to find the Sith Master.
The Feeorin's commlink, a high-tech looking square at his belt, began to blink red as if for an incoming call.
She pulled it to her with the Force and allowed the call to come.
It was laughter. A voice, she couldn't tell if it wasn't human, cackling with all the enthusiasm of a being laughing in a group of friends about an in-joke. It made her want to back up against the wall, sink to her haunches and curl up, release the fear-power that had sustained her and just cower from the monsters in the darkness, from the oddity of this laughter and the death on her hands–but she didn't. She glared at the commlink as if the striped speakers were the laughing man's eyes, and swallowed tears to firm her lips into an expression of serious anger. "Identify yourself."
The laughter faded like an echo bouncing into the recesses of a cave."Why, who did you expect?" the voice cajoled. "Darth Sidious."
She released a held breath, relieved to finally be speaking to the Sith Master. She began to walk through the alley, in case someone noticed that she had destroyed their fire escape. "My name is Kate. I've come from the Jedi temple to defect to your side, and I've killed your apprentice."
Such easy words were at odds with their content. But Darth Sidious inviting her to meet him at the Works, the abandoned factory spread not far from her current position, sounded easy as well.
"104... 105... 106... 107..."
"That's enough, Padawan. I always liked prime numbers."
Obi-Wan sighed with relief as someone -- Master Jinn, he saw, once he'd rolled onto his back and was able to look up -- picked Asha up again. It took a moment before he was able to sit properly, and someone pressed a canteen into his hands as soon as he had. He didn't think he'd ever been so grateful to see water.
He stood on shaky legs and faced the other four. Qui-Gon was smiling bemusedly at him, Asha perched on his shoulders. Master Drallig was shooing the last of the onlookers out the door while Ciaràn selected a practice blade from a rack on the far wall.
"Catch," he said, tossing one to Obi-Wan, who allowed the hilt to smack him in the chest since he could barely feel his arms.
"You aren't honestly suggesting--"
"Of course I am." Ciaràn's grin would have frightened him if he didn't know the Zabrak so well. "I did mention something about a spar earlier, didn't I?"